What is Chinese Takeout Food in America?

Q: What’s your favorite type of food?

A: Chinese food!

Victoria: You  mean Chinese takeout food. Takeout. Not real Chinese food.

I always found it annoying when people say that they eat Chinese food. One, that’s not authentic Chinese food. Two, if I gave you a chicken feet to eat at a dim sum restaurant you may look at me funny.

What I eat at home is more authentic. Of course, it’s not the real thing either. In China, the ingredients are different. And even though beef is available both in China and in America, that cow was raised differently in China. There may be a slight difference. As said by a Taiwan-enthusiast I met while eating in Flushing, Queens. Also, in a country besides China, you can’t always find the same ingredients. But these are probably the dishes my parents grew up eating. But I feel like they definitely tailor it a bit to fit my sister and mine “supposedly American tastes.”

And that’s something else that bugs me. My parents think I’m so Americanized that I would stupidly add in ketchup to noodles. No I would not do that. It tastes fine as it is. I’ll add that to a egg scallion pancake because that in its nature is bland and is a snack but not to actual Chinese food. Or asking if I I just want to eat another burger. I admit, I do l like burgers but I don’t eat it every single day! Nor do I eat bread everyday. Those were two big things I remember being asked in China when I visited. My relatives all thinking I ate burgers and bread. Sure I like it. We have Chinese bakeries here and you have chains of McDonald’s in China. I’m an American-born Chinese but that’s doesn’t mean I’m any less Chinese. I do have 2 worlds, America and China, but that doesn’t mean you can stamp your seal of opinion on me and let that be my identity. I eat chicken feet. I use chopsticks with everything. Even with fried chicken when my mom occasionally makes it, but by baking it in the oven. It’s enjoyed by my family, even my mom and dad, the ones from China if you’re thinking it’s something only the “American” children wanted.

Sure I do also like Chinese takeout. It’s Americanized to fit the American palate. Yes, my parents did own a Chinese takeout restaurant so I had my fair share of Fried Rice and Lomein. But now it just seems like an oily mess. Too much for me. My dad has cooked fried sweet chicken, not sure if it is meant to be General Tso’s Chicken, and yes I do like it. But it’s true. People do like their fried and sweet things, especially if it’s chicken. In general, people like things with high caloric values. I’m sure there’s some research that shows we’re wired to like food like that to sustain ourselves. But there is such an abundance and easy access in developed countries, people can easily over eat and become overweight or even obese.

But it seems so interesting how much Chinese takeout food has evolved from its origins. It must be so closely tied to the experiences of early Chinese immigrants in America. I remember reading my AP US History book, excited that there was a section on Asians in America, but disappointed that it was probably 4 pages maximum and said that Asians mostly worked and opened laundromats and restaurants. But this isn’t a history to be ashamed about. As you can see from this video, which I first saw on the blog Thick Dumpling Skin, Chinese takeout food has a rich history. It has come to dominate the food scene even without a centralized headquarter. Think about it:

“If our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie, you should ask yourself how often do you eat app pie versus how often do you eat Chinese food?” – Jennifer 8. Lee

But then again, according to the video, Chinese people are everywhere around the globe. I wonder how food has evolved globally.

Looking forward to going to the library later today to borrow Lee’s book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. I’m thinking about bringing fortune cookies to China this fall and seeing the reactions I get. Her video of her encounters with fortune cookies in China were posted on 2008. It has been 5 years. The Beijing Olympics brought China to the forefront. Would Chinese people be more familiar with it? Maybe I should test out fried gelato. What if I did this in Japan?

Related Video: Food Tech – Chinese Take Out (from the large food production point of view)


2 thoughts on “What is Chinese Takeout Food in America?

  1. Hey Victoria! I know that Chinese food has been a commercial success in America, but it leaves this sense that Chinese culture and expressions are desensitized in the U. S. when compared to those of other East Asian countries such as Japan and Korea.

    Here’s putting it in a really crude sense, and this mostly applies to my experiences in America. When I hear people talking about “getting some Chinese food”, it usually ends up being plastic containers, greasy boxes, and food so overladen with sauce that it’s all you can taste. There’s a definite sense of cheapness that I cringe at, being Chinese myself. However, when I hear people talk about getting Korean or Japanese food, it usually ends up being nice, sit-down restaurants with fancy silverware, a strong cultural atmosphere, and prices that are generally on the higher end. Of course there are many exceptions, but this is the general trend and stereotypes that I see.

    Also, I feel like this issue goes beyond food and into the general perception of different cultures in America. With the huge influx of Japanese media (manga, anime, video games) and now more recently Korean media (kpop, hallyu wave) that has nicely settled into America’s niche markets, I feel that there is a definite lack of a creative industry force from China working to hit these niche markets. I know that there are HK and Taiwanese stuff that have shown some influence, but those places generally aren’t considered part of mainland China.

    I’m not really sure what I want to get across from all of this, but as an Asian American from mainland China, it just feels kinda sad when I spend a lot of my time fanboying over Final Fantasy or f(x) but never anything from mainland China. It’s sad that I can’t even be excited about my own country’s food in America because it’s been so assimilated and, more often than not, subconsciously equated to food from McDonalds.

  2. Pingback: Could This Be the History of Chinese Takeout? (No, Just Joking) | Hunger Is the Best Chef

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